Ergonomics and Controls
The Lumix FH7 is small, the body surface is smooth, and the corners are rounded. In other words, it handles like a typical ultra-compact P&S digicam. Users should attach and consistently utilize the included wrist strap - tiny cameras like the FH7 are easily dropped. After a short familiarization period, the FH7's user interface is logical and uncomplicated, since the camera only provides three dedicated external controls - the on/off switch, the shutter button, and the zoom tab - everything else is managed via the touch screen. The FH7's few dedicated controls are clearly marked and easily accessed by right handed shooters, but the on/off toggle switch sticks up just enough to be occasionally turned on (or off) by accident.
What controls the FH7 is its touch screen LCD. The Panasonic GF3, which I recently tested has the best touch screen I've used to date; the FH7's touch screen LCD is very similar, but not quite as comprehensive. I got used to the GF3's touch screen fairly quickly and it actually works OK - especially for things like scrolling though saved images, but I never developed any real affection for it.
Menus and Modes
The FH7's menu system is a bit frustrating. Panasonic's designers evidently meant for it to be simple and direct, but the best laid plans sometimes fail. Initially the FH7's menu system looks impressively simple - tap the menu on the touch screen and you are presented with two options - record and set-up. What appears when you tap either option is a string of mostly incomprehensible icons, which the user will have to select in order to identify their function. What should have been simple and direct becomes excruciatingly slow and very frustrating.
Auto everything digicams are capable of producing awesome images, but on-board AE systems sometimes can't overcome prevailing conditions. One of the most important options on any auto everything P&S digicam is the exposure compensation mode. The exposure compensation function allows users to incrementally lighten or darken images to overcome ambient lighting problems. The FH7's menu system isn't intuitive and it isn't particularly logical either - if you want to access the exposure compensation mode you'll find that option buried deep in the menu system - clearly not a photographer-friendly arrangement.
Here's a breakdown of the FH7's shooting modes:
Like most point-and-shoots the FH7 doesn't feature an optical viewfinder. In the early years of the digital imaging revolution essentially all digital compacts provided both an optical viewfinder and an LCD viewfinder. LCD screens kept getting larger and optical viewfinders started to disappear. Digicam users these days usually have only the LCD screen for framing/composition, captured image review and menu navigation chores. Most modern shooters rarely use optical viewfinders anyway and in many shooting scenarios (macro shooting and portraits, for example), it is often quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen.
The FH7 features a 3.0-inch (230,000 pixel) Smart Touch LCD Screen that permits users to control camera operation by simply touching the LCD screen. Lumix FH7 users have the following touch screen options. Touch AF allows you to frame your subject on the LCD, touch the image where you'd like the camera to focus and the FH7 will focus on the precise point where your finger touched the screen. Be careful when using Touch AF because it's easy to touch the screen accidentally and change the focus point. Touch Shutter functions like Touch AF and takes the extra step to activate the camera's shutter when the user touches the screen. In review mode shooters can utilize Touch Playback - simply slide your finger across the LCD in review mode to move from photo-to-photo or double-tap to zoom in on an individual photo.
Like all LCD screens, the FH7's display is subject to fading and glare in bright outdoor lighting. The DCR test lab objectively measures LCD contrast ratios and peak brightness to assist our readers in making more informed digital camera purchasing decisions. Peak brightness for the FH7's LCD screen (the panel's output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 328 nits and on the dark side (black luminance) the measurement is 0.33 nits. The FH7's LCD provides a very impressive contrast ratio of 993:1. The FH7's default LCD info display provides all the data this camera's target audience is likely to want or need.
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